New commander takes the helm of Maritime Forces Pacific

Rear Admiral Art McDonald assumed command of Maritime Forces Pacific on Friday and lauded its approach to social matters.

He said during a change of command ceremony that Maritime Forces Pacific has “been at the forefront of the Forces’ social and institutional evolution in issues that matter to Canadians.”

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“From listening to and working with our First Nations, to celebrating that first same-sex kiss on a [ship’s] return and the diversity that it represents, to tackling conduct issues head-on and to dealing with substance dependencies with both a firm hand and compassion — appropriate of what I consider to be this nation’s finest employer — these things, all of these things, are things which you should be immensely proud of.”

McDonald said he will follow those and other examples in his post, which also includes command of Joint Task Force Pacific — responsible for maritime security in the North Pacific and for all Canadian Armed Forces in B.C.

“It was a bit of a breeze blowing through at the ceremony today, but that wasn’t the winds of change,” he said, outside his new residence at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt.

“The navy’s been following a pretty deliberate program for a while now, and we know what this formation’s all about. It’s putting Canada to sea in the form of the ships that come out of Esquimalt Harbour and represent Canadians, Canadian values in places around the world.

“Of course, we’re doing that right now with some ships leading international exercises off [Hawaii and California], and some of those ships are going to carry on across the Pacific as we continue to maintain relationships in Asia-Pacific as Canada, a country with three oceans, is wont to do.”

McDonald was born on Cape Breton Island and has spent considerable time in Esquimalt during his naval career.

“I like to think of myself as the perfect naval officer — 10 years in Halifax, 10 years here in Esquimalt,” he said with a smile. “It’s a perfect balance to understand what we’re trying to do as a navy, and I’m thrilled to be back here.”

McDonald said his predecessor and longtime friend, Rear Admiral Gilles Couturier, has excelled at the job.

“We’ve been very successful at getting ships out the door to do the business that Canadians need.”

Doing the work at CFB Esquimalt is a complement of about 6,000 people, about 4,000 of them in the military and 2,000 civilians.

Couturier spent just over a year in command before being appointed as the navy’s deputy commander, but that doesn’t mean there will be a similar time frame for McDonald.

“It’s as the service needs,” McDonald said. “But, for sure, a big part of what we do is connecting with the community and with the rest of the country.”

Couturier said lingering concerns as he leaves Esquimalt include the ability to meet some personnel needs and the state of the submarine program.

He said submarines are “an essential tool in the government toolbox.”

“They bring a capability that a country like Canada, whose economy relies primarily on commerce from the sea, needs,” Couturier said. “This coast, this harbour, our fleet maintenance facility and our industry holds the key to the deployment of those submarines.”

Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon told those at the ceremony that people in military service have a vital role in Canada.

“The men and women of our military and their families deserve our utmost respect,” she said. “Not only for the tremendously proficient and professional armed-forces services delivered, but also for the sacrifices they and their families make as they uproot and move from coast to coast and throughout this nation.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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